The politics of fashion week
Martin Yambao (The Philippine Star) - November 14, 2014 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - As the Manila Fashion Festival drew its curtain this week, a strange hush of relief fell upon the exiting crowd. Staged a few weeks deeper into the season, attendees tenuously braved weekday traffic to make 6 p.m. presentations. Contending with an uptick of client pick-ups, publishing deadlines, and in-store footfall, the specter of holiday demands held a viselike grip on fashion editors and designers alike. As the extended fashion week closes, the industry can breathe and move on.

For the drawn-out spring/summer 2015 season, the biannual runway presentations were divided into differing camps. The participating designers were split between two brands, two organizers, two venues, and two sets of dates; namely, between the storied institution of Philippine Fashion Week by Runway Productions and the newly inaugurated Manila Fashion Festival by Art Personas. The s/s 2015 industry calendar was mired by schism — a fashion week, broken in half. 

From a 50-strong designer lineup during the previous season’s Holiday 2014, Philippine Fashion Week closed with only 11 designer shows for s/s ‘15. Indubitably, a sudden drop from any which vantage point. Then, out of the woodwork comes the Manila Fashion Festival, featuring a lineup of former PhFW regulars and a number of emerging designers. Held weeks apart, the facts seem circumspect. Is it pure coincidence or is something deeper at play? YStyle investigates.

--- WHY FASHION WEEK?

A runway show is a basic marketing tool; a preview of upcoming seasonal offerings for press, buyers and the general public. For emergent labels, having your collection worn on a catwalk is a rite of passage. If staged well, it can signal a positive turn for any designer. In the same breath, it can also be uneconomical, labor intensive, and not least of all, time consuming. Qualities that are part and parcel of any fashion week. At the prospect of alternatives (seasonal look books and static press previews), is marketing a runway show worth its weight?

Why fashion week? We spoke to two designers who stood alone for s/s 2015; Maureen Disini and Martin Bautista. On fashion week: “The sole reason why I don’t participate in fashion week is because of my workload, I just can’t squeeze it in. I would love to be a part of it but work always gets in the way,” says Disini. As for PhFW mainstay Martin Bautista: “For this season, I already released my collection in a look book. I felt like a runway show would be superfluous.” On the topic of moving forward, “Shoots are better for me because it’s easier to translate my vision, the sense of control is there,” says Bautista. “But I still love the experience of a runway show. For the upcoming collections, I prefer to do seasonal look books but maybe, I’ll do one runway show a year.”

The “independent” perspective gives reason to work outside of the system.

CALENDAR SCHISM

The dramatic thinning of PhFW, based solely on designer “he said, she said,” can be attributed to two factors for s/s ‘15: the stringent demands made on the part of the designer and the substantial increase in participation fees levied by the organizers, Runway Productions. To shed some light on this issue, we corresponded with designer Eric Delos Santos, a veteran and s/s ‘15 participant. 

YSTYLE: What was the process of joining PhFW this season?

ERIC DELOS SANTOS: I was selected by Joey Espino as part of an initial set of 16 designers. I sent sketches of my collection, and then we sat down for an interview to discuss my vision. They wanted designers who could be professional about requirements and fittings. Next thing I knew, I received an email and I made the cut.

Speaking of your vision, do you control any aspect of your runway presentation?

I understand their perspective, that fashion week should be all about the runway. More clothes, less drama. They do the casting, they do the choreography, I just pick out the music.

Is it true that PhFW is charging a substantial participation fee of (undisclosed amount) for all Fashion Week designers?

Yes.

* * *

YStyle reached out repeatedly to several representatives and public relations of Runway Productions for comment and confirmation, but all efforts were rebuffed.

In the harsh light of day, facts remain facts and the numbers speak for themselves. Designer presentations for PhFW comprise a fifth of the amount compared to previous seasons, some mainstays have either shifted camps or balked entirely at the process. On moving forward and the future of emergent fashion in our industry, the status quo seems dire. 

FREEDOM AND CONTROL

At first blush, the timing of the Manila Fashion Festival may seem curious, at best. A tad too convenient; the sudden arrival of a full-blown fashion showcase catering to “homeless” designers with collections to show. We spoke to Art Personas CEO Ronnie Cruz to unearth their origin story, and to discern fact from fiction.  

YSTYLE: When was the idea for the Manila Fashion Festival conceived?

RONNIE CRUZ: MFF by Art Personas was originally planned to debut next year, in March, for Holiday 2015. But instead, we decided to launch it in tandem with our international marketing arm, One Globe Limited, to supplement our other franchise, the inauguration of the Face of the Philippines modeling competition. 

How did you select the designer participants for MFF?

Originally, our plan was to produce a runway challenge with only Anthony Ramirez as the participating designer. But in late August, Anthony approached me with a set of 10 other interested names — these included Vania Romoff, Sassa Jimenez, Renan Pacson, et al. With two and a half months to prepare, we decided to go for it and we took everybody on board.

What did Art Personas offer these designers?

We did not require a joining fee for this season, we gave them a subsidy for models, and we gave them freedom to realize their vision. Casting of models, hair and makeup, and audiovisuals is left to their discretion.

What is your opinion on the politics of Fashion Week?

To be honest, we reached out to a lot of significant bodies in the industry and opened our doors for partnerships, but for whatever reason, we were met with a lot of skepticism, unfortunately. We recognize that the industry has room for change and growth, but at the same time, we respect competition. Our main goal is to create possibilities, but moving forward, we’re not closed to collaboration. 

ON MOVING FORWARD

Mounting a runway show, let alone staging a set of presentations for fashion week, requires substantial time and money. At YStyle we’re not against levies for professional participation. Everybody has to eat, and our industry is built on helping each other out. If the trend continues, the worst-case scenario is market cannibalization; a decrease in platforms for designers to participate. Communication is key, a concerted effort is the likely solution.

If the four global fashion capitals of New York, London, Milan, and Paris can subscribe to a singular calendar, we don’t see why Manila could not as well.

 

For Spring/Summer 2015 designer shows, Ystyle checks in on the industry calendar and we break it down.

ART PERSONAS DESIGNER DESIGNERS FASHION FASHION WEEK MANILA FASHION FESTIVAL RUNWAY RUNWAY PRODUCTIONS WEEK
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